Water Valley A Melting Pot For Immigrants
By Charles Cooper
Hello everyone I hope you are having a good week. Water Valley more than most small Mississippi towns was really a melting pot in its early days. It started with the Irish who helped to lay the tracks for the railroad, stayed to work in the shops and farms, and went off to fight in the War Between the States.
The Swedes and Norwegians came to work as skilled mechanics and were instrumental in causing J. V. Blackmur to establish the Mechanics Bank. The area north of what is now the park was known as Swede Town at one time. Mr. Hirsch was the only Jewish citizen. His niece married Dick Mann, a non-Jewish German who ran the only florist for many years.
Nick and John Stamolis from Greece easily assimilated into the Valley culture. They operated the Cafe in the Blackmur Hotel that was a favorite of the coffee drinking crowd as well as serving a great businessman’s lunch. They could carry on a banter with their customers like native sons.
Mr. August Enderlin from Alsace-Lorraine was a delightful old gentleman who spoke with a German accent instead of French. The Badleys, or Baddleys, or Baddeleys were all from England, including my great-grandfather. It was said that Squire Badley who came from the English pottery town of Fenton found the right kind of clay for his pottery in Water Valley that he had looked for in California and Iowa.
According to my research, Fenton is still a large pottery center with over twenty factories still operating. The Squire also trained the Ussery family in his craft and in recent years some pieces have turned up with the Ussery name on them.
When I was growing up, Mrs. Lula Ericson reported to the Commercial Appeal daily weather conditions including the amount of rainfall. Her son, Rudolph Ericson was Night Marshal at one time.
I mentioned the Mechanic’s bank and my old friend and classmate, Ernie Aune worked up to be President of that institution. I wonder if any of you remember when the Mechanic’s Bank counter checks imprinted the image of a cow on them because the Blackmur Dairy operated for many years in the Valley. Very few people used personalized checks in those days, preferring to use the check with the cow on it.
Ed Baddley also ran a dairy and delivered milk over town. Mr. I. J. Marrs, well known local teacher, delivered chocolate milk for many years from his small dairy not far from where the High School is today. Mr. Phillips, local farmer, experimented with growing wine grapes and also raising sheep with little success. However, undaunted, he started selling milk to the Kraft Cheese plant in later years.
Small businessmen sprang back from failures and went on to success without interference or bail outs from the Government. All they need today is to be left alone and they’ll do it again. Will Gardner, whose mercantile business was ruined by the depression, went on to be a successful burial insurance salesman and was instrumental in building the Newman-Gardner Funeral Home.
Tom Pulley, disabled on the railroad, starting with two pocket knives went on to be known far and wide for cutting off corns and bunions and never drawing blood. Ben Blaker, who couldn’t read or write, sold beef door to door for years. He even extended credit and let the customer enter the amount in his day book and said he never lost any money. My uncle, Charles Badley, said that if a customer asked how much he owed, Mr. Blaker would turn to the correct page and show them.
John Low a farmer in the Jumper’s Chapel community would fill a cotton sack with different vegetables, throw it over his shoulder, and walk to town and sell door to door. Once someone trying to be smart told John he would buy if he could change a twenty dollar bill and John reached in his bib overalls and pulled out a tobacco sack and counted out the change and the individual had no choice but to buy something.
I could go on, but you get the picture. I’ll probably include more in a future column. Water Valley has a proud heritage and I’m glad to have grown up there.
Let me hear from you as you know I always include your stories. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.